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I get schooled on “work as punishment”

Posted Aug 15 2012 8:33am

I recently wrote a blog post about the ancient and prevailing attitude, that work is a punishment . Typically, work is not seen as something you do because you like it, but something you have to do to survive.

This prompted a great email from Hồ Châu, who thought my post did not apply to large parts of the world:

Is your “Work is punishment article” only for European readers? It repeats the same error in your book. Christianity not responsible for most work cultures. India, China, Korea, Japan (almost half planet) have their own cultural reasons for work too much. Muslims, another 1 billion people, have other reasons.

If you mean Europeans, please write Europeans. Other people have different culture motivations for hard work. This article does not apply to East Asia. KungFuZi and other people talk about hard work good for spirits and bodies of people. I not know about India/Hindustani culture motivation.

I hope Chinese/ZhongWen book translation will fix this error, otherwise this is not true for readers for that part of world, they will think that part of your great book is strange. One reason for many people/cultures, before modern time, farming requires much work for success and survival. Most people were farmers. This is one global reason many cultures tell people work a lot because very important during that time!

I like your great web site, it’s very good. The article for that Indian magazine was very good, and I liked the part about using their own culture and stop copying Europeans. I tell people to use ideas but recreate by a new local way, help create something new for everyone. ^-^

Xie xie for good work to help every one!

Thanks for that Châu. I agree completely, and that blog post (and the corresponding chapter in my first book) are indeed written from a Western perspective.

Also this comment from Andy corrects what I wrote about the Jewish approach to work.

I agree with the essential idea of the post. Just a theological point here. You write:

“According to Hebrew belief, work is a “curse devised by God explicitly to punish the disobedience and ingratitude of Adam and Eve.” The Old Testament itself supports work, not because there’s any joy in it, but because it is necessary to prevent poverty and destitution.”

I can’t speak for Christianity, because I’m not a Christian, and have never studied it in depth. But, being a Jew, and having studied the ancient Hebrew texts, I can say that this was NOT the attitude of the ancient rabbis. “(Rabbi) Shemayah says, ‘Love work’” (Chapters of the Fathers, 1:10). Unclear to me whether this quote predates, or is roughly concurrent with the time of Jesus; but it certainly predates Paul.

I think the basic attitude of Judaism is that the curse was in the fact that the basic needs were no longer supplied without work. But work itself–whether before or after the curse–was something to love, and to use to build the most meaningful life possible.

Thanks, Andy!

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